A few days ago, I wrote that John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, might be running a fool’s errand if he thinks he can bring the Israelis and Palestinians to a final-status agreement. I argued that neither side is ready for the necessary compromises — the Israelis don’t have the political will to reverse the West Bank settlement project, and the Palestinians are weak and divided.
And by divided, I don’t mean that they’re subject to internal disagreements; their polity is actually divided into two warring factions, Fatah on the West Bank and the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Particularly in today’s turbulent Middle East — where the future of no state seems assured — it’s a bit much to ask Israel to cede territory to a political entity, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, that would be unable to rule the territory it had been ceded.
Two ideas to work around this problem: The first is to appoint Carlos Danger as the U.S. Middle East peace envoy. Who wouldn’t bend to the will of a person named Carlos Danger?
The second: Engineer the ouster of Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel see Hamas as a bitter enemy; both sides understand that Hamas is an impediment to peace talks. The end of Hamas’s rule — the Gaza Strip constituting about half of what would be a future Palestinian state — could set the stage for actual, fruitful negotiations.
Removing Hamas from power would be difficult, but not as difficult as it might have been a month ago, before the demise of Hamas’s main benefactor, the Muslim Brotherhood, when Mohamed Mursi was ousted as president of Egypt.
As Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine explains, Hamas is now more divided, hapless and isolated than it has been since its founding: “The new Egyptian government, and much of the public, take a decidedly dim view of Hamas,” Ibish wrote recently. “They see it as conniving in the low-level, but extremely dangerous, insurgency in Sinai that greatly intensified after Morsi’s overthrow. Hamas, and the Palestinians living under its misrule, have paid a heavy price for the Egyptian military counteroffensive against Sinai extremists. Egyptian forces reportedly killed 35 Hamas fighters and destroyed 850 smuggling tunnels. Fuel and other shortages, and a financial crisis, have consequently intensified in Gaza.”
Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained in a recent Foreign Policy post that Hamas’s financial struggles are acute: “The downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt earlier this month has been widely described as a blow to Hamas and its de facto government in the Gaza Strip. But the real damage has been to the Islamist group’s pocketbook. The Egyptian Army’s ongoing operations against the subterranean tunnels connecting Egypt to the Gaza Strip, which have long served as key arteries for bulk cash smuggling, are wreaking havoc on Hamas’s finances. One senior Israeli security official told me that, in the current environment, an additional reduction of 20 to 30 percent in Hamas’ revenues could ‘destroy’ the movement.”
Schanzer argues that there are concrete steps the U.S. could take to encourage the collapse of Hamas. The White House could lobby Hamas’s remaining benefactors in Turkey and Qatar to trim their funding. If such lobbying failed, Congress could “pull strings to speed up delivery of or withhold the advanced weapons systems that both countries are eagerly awaiting, depending upon how the conversation goes. Turkey, for example, is expecting Sidewinder missiles and Chinook helicopters, and it would like to purchase Predator and Reaper drones. Qatar, for its part, is expecting delivery of Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Systems, and 500 Javelin-Guided Missiles.”
Of course, the collapse of Hamas wouldn’t mean instantaneous Palestinian Authority rule. But nothing at all will happen with Hamas in power.
There are more important matters in the Middle East right now than the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians: The Syrian civil war, the turmoil in Egypt and Iran’s continued march toward the nuclear threshold are three. But if Kerry insists on pushing negotiations, he might as well attempt to create conditions in which those negotiations could work.
Breaking Hamas would be one way to try to achieve his goal.